Comic Book Review: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #25

The Revolution has absolutely loved the Knaufs’ run on Iron Man. This is certainly one of the best versions of Iron Man since the glory days of Micheline and Layton. Iron Man sports some of the strongest writing of any Marvel comic book. I’d even say that the Knaufs might actually be topping Brubaker’s incredible effort over on Captain America. The Knaufs have made Iron Man one of the best written and most complex titles currently on the market. I’m sure that Iron Man #25 will be another excellent read. Let’s hit this review.

Creative Team
Writers: Daniel and Charles Knauf
Artist: Rob De La Torre

Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10.
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10.
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10.

Synopsis: We begin with Tem informing Maya Hanson that the Defense Department will not continue the Extremis project with the programmed cell death intact. That Maya must either remove it or provide the government with the encoding sequence. Maya says that the government is crazy. That without the programmed cell death that the Extremis virus could spread like an airborne virus and kill almost the entire population on Earth.

Tem urges Maya to think about his company and all of his employees who will be out of work if the government de-funds the project and then sues Prometheus Gentech for breach of contract. Maya asks Tem for a little time to think about her decision. Tem agrees.

We cut to Tony and Doc Samson at Tony’s hotel room in Omaha, Nebraska. Samson is reviewing all the documents that Tony turned over to Kooning concerning Gentech and the missing persons that Gadget had been investigating. Tony says that the Mandarin is behind this. Samson says that he can’t release Tony from the power dampener since it was preprogrammed to stay locked for the entire term of Tony’s suspension. Tony spits that people will die if Tony can’t access his full powers.

Samson asks how many people will die due a potentially schizophrenic metahuman who refuses treatment. Tony says that he is not crazy. Tony then admits to seeing ghosts. That they aren’t really ghosts. They are dead and that they come to him in dreams only that Tony is awake when he has these “dreams.” Tony says he sees Captain America, Sal, Gadget and Happy. All the people who have died. And then say things. They give Tony information about how to look at the evidence and to point him in the right direction. That everything they say has been true.

Samson then replies that Extremis rewrote Tony’s entire body giving him enhanced endurance, enhanced restorative ability, enhanced motor functions and significantly enhanced brain functions. That Tony is processing information at light speed and connecting random data like a super computer on one level while his normal thought processes are still functioning at a standard human level.

Samson says that Tony’s brain is taking in more information that it can process. Therefore, it is storing it and sublimating it in his unconscious mind like a reservoir. That Tony’s hallucinations are spillover information too urgent and too important to remain out of play. Samson deduces that Tony is stuffing this excess data into the same place that humans normally fill up with guilt, pain and regret. That we all have ghosts and demons. In Tony’s case they are functioning as messengers.

Tony says it doesn’t make sense that he hasn’t seen other dead people like Maya Hansen. Suddenly, Tony the thought dawns on Tony that Maya isn’t dead.

We cut to Maya at a payphone calling Jack Kooning. Maya yells at Kooning for lying to her about her working on a Super Soldier program and for the Department of Defense wanting an unrestrained form of the Extremis Virus to use as a weapon of mass destruction. Kooning tells Maya that he has no idea what she is talking about. Kooning tells Maya that he never gave such orders or said such things. Kooning tells Maya to stand down and wait for him to deal with all of this.

Kooning hangs up the phone and wonders what he has done. Iron Man then appears on the scene and grabs Kooning and asks where Maya Hansen is right now. Iron Man proceeds to slap around Kooning yet Kooning keeps insisting that Maya is dead. Samson intervenes and says that Kooning is not a bad man. That desperation can make a good man do terrible things. Samson hands Kooning the picture of Kooning standing with Captain America that was sitting on Kooning’s desk.

Kooning then admits everything that he did. That he faked Maya’s death and assigned her to the Super Soldier project that had been awarded to Gentech which was owned by a Mongolian named Tem Borjigin. Iron Man then tells Kooning that he really screwed the pooch by handing over the government contract and the Extremis Virus to a company that is owned by the Mandarin.

We see Iron Man headed to Gentech’s lab. Tony contacts Dugan and orders him to ready the launch of the StarkTech EVH-Beta Prototype. Maria Hill then enters the command center and tells Dugan to belay that order and asks him what the hell he is doing.

We cut to Maya sneaking into the Gentech’s lab where the Extremis virus is being held. The Mandarin enters and apologizes to Maya for having had to lie to her. Mandarin admits that he wants to use the Extremis virus against the world. The Mandarin recounts how his ancestor, Genghis Khan, ruled his empire based on the perfect system of meritocracy. That the strong survived and ruled and that the weak died.

Mandarin states that he was a fool to think that the Malukkians had given him the power of the ten rings just to rule over humankind. That Mandarin received this power in order to make him a living example of the next step in the evolution of our species. That the Mandarin’s true purpose was not to enslave man but to elevate man.

That the Extremis virus will kill billions of people, but those precious few who possess the natural immunity to Extremis will survive. That mankind will be stronger, smarter and all but immune to the ravages of age and disease. Mandarin says that he envies Maya because she is one of the few that possess the rare gene sequence that insures her survival of the Extremis transformation. However, the Mandarin does not possess that gene sequence and that he will die with the others in the great culling of the world.

Suddenly, Iron Man busts onto the scene and gets ready to brawl with Mandarin. End of issue.

The Good: Iron Man #25 was another wonderful read. The Knaufs serve up a strongly plotted and paced issue. The slow burn approach that the Knaufs have take with their entire run on Iron Man is the same styled approach of Brubaker over on Captain America. The Knaufs take their time to soundly construct various complex plotlines and then methodically reveal how they are related to each other as all the pieces of this rather elaborate puzzle slowly slide into place. What is so unique is that despite this measured pace at no point does the reader ever feel bored.

Ever since the beginning of The Knaufs’ run we have been steadily and patiently building toward the final scene of Iron Man #25: the climactic showdown between Iron Man and the Mandarin. I have been so impressed with the elaborate storytelling and long range vision of Brubaker on Captain America and what the Knaufs have done on Iron Man is every bit as impressive if not more so.

The Knaufs craft plenty of their usually fantastic dialogue. The flow of the dialogue is pleasantly natural. And each character has their own unique voice. All of the various characters are well developed which lends to this title having such a realistic feel to it. All the characters are well developed and three dimensional. From Samson to Kooning, the Knaufs understand that all the supporting characters must be as fleshed out as the main character.

The Knaufs are doing a wonderful job with the two main characters in this story arc: Tony and the Mandarin. I am enjoying the fact that the Knaufs have taken a rather one dimensional megalomaniac styled villain with hopes of world conquest and morphed him into a much more nuanced and compelling character. I dig his newfound view of his purpose within this world.

I also like the use of the Extremis virus as a vehicle to cull the masses and to help boost mankind into the next step of evolution. And to top it all off, the revelation that the Mandarin will not be one of the lucky ones to survive his plan makes this plotline even more interesting. I dig this little twist that the Mandarin is willing to sacrifice himself for what he truly believes is for the betterment of mankind.

The Knaufs handling of Tony’s character continues to blow me away. What you have seen on the Civil War and Initiative tie-in issues in other titles is totally unrecognizable with the Tony Stark that the Knaufs have given us on Iron Man. And the Knaufs’ Tony Stark is completely in keeping with his history unlike what we have gotten outside of Iron Man ever since Civil War began.

The Knaufs have given us possible the deepest, most complex and intriguing version of Tony Stark that we have ever seen. What the Knaufs have done with Tony’s character is simply amazing. The amount of psychology that the Knaufs pour into this title is rarely seen on other comic books currently on the market. The Knaufs have delved deeply into Tony’s mind and what we see is not always pretty.

I love the explanation of the ghosts that Tony has been seeing. Absolutely fantastic. And the explanation makes perfect sense. It fits together perfectly with Tony’s enhanced mental abilities due to the Extremis Virus.

I’m curious about the StarkTech EVH-Beta Prototype that Tony ordered Dugan to send to him. Could we be seeing a brand new Iron Man armor? I hope so. I also like the twist of having Maria Hill cancel Dugan’s order to send the prototype to Tony. This should certainly put Tony in a tough situation as he is clearly outclassed by the Mandarin in his old suit of armor.

The Knaufs end Iron Man #25 with a great hook ending. We finally see Iron Man about to knock heads with his greatest enemy and having to do it without his Extremis powers or his modern armor. We should be in store for a great brawl with the next issue.

Iron Man #25 also came with plenty of additional extras. We got an article and some pics about the upcoming Iron Man movie. We then got a cool extra feature that was an interview with Iron Man legend Bob Layton who discussed several of his favorite and least favorite armors. Bob shared with the reader his philosophy about how Iron Man’s armor should be designed. I loved this article and it alone made the extra dollar slapped on Iron Man #25 well worth it.

We also got a re-print of Tales of Suspense #39 recounting the original origin of Iron Man. And then we got a preview of Viva Las Vegas #1 by Jon Favreau and Adi Granov.

The Bad: I’m just not crazy about De La Torre’s style of art. There is no doubt that De La Torre is talented and his art certainly does go along with the general dark and creepy mood of the Knaufs’ story. But, I just don’t dig rough, sketchy and muddy artwork on a title like Iron Man. And I certainly don’t think that De La Torre draws a particularly intriguing or interesting Iron Man.

Overall: Iron Man #25 is another absolute gem. The Knaufs continue to provide some of the best writing that Marvel has to offer. It is a shame that so many readers may never give Iron Man a chance given that Marvel has done their best to make Tony look like a dickhead on just about every comic book outside of Iron Man. I definitely encourage you to give Iron Man a try. This is certainly one of the best written comic books on the market and well worth the cover price.